This week in my current class, which is Workplace Diversity, our instructor is having us absorb a lot of different information about the term Social Justice Warrior. This class, as most of my other classes at Avila, has been eye-opening, to say the least. Right after Oscar died and I knew I was going to finish my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in his memory, I knew I was getting myself into a challenging mind-growth situation, especially considering how grief like mine rearranges everything about yourself that you used to think was true. My last couple of classes I have been referring to as “mind-stretching”. Uncomfortable at times because I feel deeply irritated, almost angry really, that we are WASTING OUR PRECIOUS TIME as a species on using our mind power to argue about issues that are not real.
What is real is that there are millions of people who die on our planet every day because they do not have nutrition to nourish their bodies. What is real is that in this county, the United States of America, suicide is now the number one killer of kids who are middle school age (now above accidental deaths for the first time ever) and we are not funding research accordingly so we can understand this disease process and save lives! There are plenty of other real issues that come to mind, and as I sit here rattling them off in my mind (all issues revolving around equality and equity, at their roots), I realize that this makes me a Social Justice Warrior. And damn right. I would like to see any right-wing conservative live through what I have lived through and not care about Social Justice issues deeply. And so lies the trap that I see so many people fall into. The name-calling and the “my-story-makes-my-opinion-more-valid-than-yours” defensive stance. This is where I see this Social Justice Warrior concept taking us online as I have completed the required readings and viewings for this week’s course work. It is a fancy game of name calling and refusing to take responsibility. On both sides.
Social Justice and Social Justice Warrior are different concepts, and to understand the term Social Justice Warrior it is important to understand Social Justice. Social Justice was first defined by Luigi Taparelli in 1840 in his Theoretical Treatise of Natural Right Based on Fact, “Justice due between associations on the same, or at greater or lesser levels of the social hierarchy.” Important to understand that this subject has roots in religion, Catholicism specifically, and it has only been in very recent years that it has become politicized. This ideology has influenced Marxist and Communist theory and also influences most social welfare programs. The problem with this term and with this concept is that it is not strictly defined. It means many different things to many different people and, as such, some would argue that it means nothing at all, such as F. A. Hayek. Hayek’s well-published opinion, that Social Justice cannot be defined, has been fuel for the fire for this to become a hotly contested political issue. So, Social Justice evolved from a theological and philosophical concept into a raging political and public opinion argument.
The UN threw more fuel on the fire in 2006 when Social Justice in an Open World was published. In this publication, the UN defined social justice: “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth; however, it is necessary to attach some important qualifiers to this statement. Currently, maximizing growth appears to be the primary objective, but it is also essential to ensure that growth is sustainable, that the integrity of the natural environment is respected, that the use of non-renewable resources is rationalized, and that future generations are able to enjoy a beautiful and hospitable earth.” In my mind, why don’t we just stop there?
The term Social Justice Warrior has only been in existence since the end of the 20th Century. Social Justice Warrior means different things to different people, just like Social Justice. When someone applies this term to themselves it is a term that implies a willingness to fight for what is right, to fight for equality and equanimity. On the other hand, when it is applied by someone who does not agree with the concept of Social Justice it is meant in a derogatory and insulting manner to describe someone whose only aim is to censor speech and remove power from the privileged. Shout out to Dr. Layman for the informative youtube video on the history of Social Justice and Social Justice Warriors: A brief history of Social Justice and “Social Justice Warriors”.
The key players in the Social Justice Movement today are really any person or any group who advocate for the rights of historically marginalized people. I recently started following an Instagram account @lilnativeboy, Allen Salway, who I would consider a Social Justice Warrior. He is Native American and I have learned so much about myself as the descendant of white colonizers by seeing my privilege through his eyes. It is humbling and also embarrassing, to be sure. From everything to the physical ground that I live on and that it once belonged to the Navajo to understanding our American holidays like Thanksgiving through the eyes of those who were trampled on to establish such a “holiday”, this man is opening my eyes to the injustice that our country, founded by white Americans, is deeply engrained with. Another key player is a pediatrician named Dr. Rhea Boyd. She utilizes photographs, powerful images through which to view our current state of cultural affairs. Through these images, she feels that the story of social injustice is best told. Awareness of the issue is the first step to change. Further, change is really about integrating historically marginalized people into positions of power in our society. That is how lasting change toward equality and equanimity will happen.
The more awareness is generated regarding the current issues of living in our society as experienced by historically marginalized populations the swifter change must happen. It is a grassroots effort, a grassroots revolution of thought and action. When I understand my role in our society intimately, I naturally change the way I see, talk and interact with those around me. I actively seek relationships with those I might not have before my understanding was expanded. As a white woman with roots in her ancestry back to the American Revolution, I feel compelled to use whatever power comes from my privilege to lift those around me who have been trampled on by my ancestors. I want historically marginalized people to see me as a strong ally. The more I learn the more I want to hear the experiences of those around me who are different from me. I feel that through talking and sharing with one another we will become a united force for the revolutionary change that needs to happen in our government and to health policy specifically.
I feel that Social Justice Warriors are mostly helping to diversify our culture, including our workplace culture, by raising awareness and increasing the need for, at the very least, sensitivity. I feel that this has become such a provocative battleground politically because the issues that Social Justice Warriors speak about and rally around are all issues that we have never spoken about openly in our culture. Never. Change like this is uncomfortable. We must keep talking and sharing, though, it is the only way to #breakthestigma.
I think, at the core, the issue of Social Justice is really about human rights. As a culture, we must decide what constitutes human rights and then mold our policies and laws around those agreed upon human rights. This, of course, is also a hotly disputed arena- I think it is amazing that it is so difficult to agree on what human rights are and that they should be fought for and supported universally!!
What I see happening to our species currently is an evolution from individual pockets of existence separated by geographical barriers to a global existence where we are all united by our humanness. A revolution in thinking from what separates us and makes us different, to what unites us and makes us the same. I feel that as Americans we have a unique opportunity to use our privilege to lead this global revolution toward equality, equanimity, and unification.
How powerful to think that the way you speak to the people around you in your everyday life and the topics that you bring to your interactions can influence our collective existence as humans?!
My instructor wants us to respond to the Dove ad where the black woman turns into a white woman turns into a brown woman. My initial response to the ad was, “oh that is too bad, this would have been a tremendously successful ad if the white woman had turned into the black woman or the brown woman.” There probably would have been some sort of backlash then, too, honestly, maybe surrounding starting the ad with a white woman. I don’t know. It kind of pisses me off that I have to dissect this when I feel like I have better things to think about. But that is part of my own trap, isn’t it?
“JUSTICE WILL NOT BE SERVED UNTIL THOSE WHO ARE UNAFFECTED ARE AS OUTRAGED AS THOSE WHO ARE.” ~ Benjamin Franklin